Tarka Line to Barnstaple

Snow in Bristol

The snow had disrupted my plans. Sitting in a soul-less hotel room in Bristol I had the choice, stay for another day with my Pot Noodle, teabags and a view from the window that consisted of the windows from the rest of the hotel or check out and test how the train services had been affected and head west to Devon.

The trains were not too badly affected. My route would take me from Bristol Temple Meads to Exeter St. David's and then along the Tarka Line to Barnstaple. The Cross Country service to Plymouth was only running 18 minutes late and with wi-fi connection available for a not too expensive rate I was comfortable on my way to Exeter. The fields covered in snow, down which tobbogan runs were being created by children and adults alike, gave way to water-logged fields that could have doubled as mires or lakes as we reached Taunton.

Barnstaple Station

An hour or so later and I crossed the platform at Exeter St. Davids to wait for the local train to Barnstaple along the quaintly named Tarka Line. As a former inhabitant of this part of Devon I am ashamed to say that I had never used the Tarka train before this day. I have walked along the foot/cycle path that constitutes the old line that was put out of action many moons ago, from Instow to Bideford and from Barnstaple towards Ilfracombe - it is such a shame that they no longer run as I would definitely have used it from Bideford to Barnstaple when I lived there.

What really excited me about this trip (and some of you may construe this as the product of a mind devoid of sufficient stimulus) is that it had request stops. The train as displayed on the platform screen was scheduled for Crediton - Yeoford (x) - Copplestone (x) - Morchard Road (x) - Eggesford (x) - Umberleigh (x) - Barnstaple. I wondered as to the (x) but with the cold permeating my Spanish softened skin I headed into the heated waiting room and in there I discovered something else about how train stations work, or at least how they work at Exeter St. Davids. 

Over the staff walkie-talkies I could hear the term 'runners' being bandied about. To me that was someone who might run across the tracks or deliberately run in front of a train; the reality is a lot less dramatic. Runners, as one was identified on Platform 1, is someone who fears they are late for the train and are running down the platform. Rather than pull away from the platform with a smug look adorning the conductor's face, as red-faced the runner slows to a dejected walk (which is what I am convinced used to happen when I commuted), they wait. Yes, wait for the passenger to catch the train. Admirable. 

Our train was a mere four mintes behind schedule and as we set off the train's disembodied voice told us that certain stations were request stops, those it turned out that had been marked with an x. To request the train to stop at the station the passenger has to inform the conductor. Nobody wished to be dropped off at Copplestone or Morchard Road though a few disembarked at the other stops. The train was very busy and it is heartening to know that at times when cut-backs are more common than maintaining services, that an obviously popular service that feeds some of the smaller towns and villages of this rural county continues to serve the community.

I was suitably impressed, so much so that I am planning another trip on Monday, weather permitting, to savour the sights of Exeter.


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